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During the Memorial Day weekend, traditionally the time when interest in baseball begins to flourish, the sport's troubled state was again a hot topic in the media. In New York, Claire Smith summed it up by writing that the strike "has clearly alienated a paying public now suspicious of the national pastime. The resultant backlash has sent ball clubs reeling as they ponder all sorts of unhappy numbers for a game now entering its crucial selling season -- Memorial Day to Labor Day" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/28). OPINION SAMPLER: In Montreal, Jack Todd reacts to acting Commissioner Bud Selig's assessment that "it's too early to make snap judgments." Todd writes, "Baseball is facing a fan revolution and baseball is in big trouble. If anything, it's already too late" (Montreal GAZETTE, 5/27). AL President Gene Budig: "The fans are still irritated. ... But I expect them to start coming back by All-Star time" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/27). In Chicago, Andrew Gottesman writes, "So far, neither passions nor bargains have succeeded in filling seats." Citing factors such as emergency marketing efforts and a lack of group sales following the strike, some team officials hope the summer will bring fans back (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/27). But Braves President Stan Kasten notes that the teams in pennant races will get attendance back up, but warns, "Many cities haven't seen the worst" (Claire Smith, N.Y. TIMES, 5/28). In Toronto, Adam Meyers sees "an industry heading for restructuring." And Richard Griffin writes that MLB needs a "Ruthian equivalent" to "make it cool to love baseball" for a new generation of fans (TORONTO STAR, 5/27). SOME TELLING STATS: BUSINESS WEEK cites Disney's purchase of a controlling interest in the Angels for "an unimpressive" $30M as a signal of the "start of a series of lowball deals." Sports Franchises Inc.'s Doug Metchick: "The day of the Baltimore Orioles selling for $175 million at auction are over." TV ad billings have fallen as much as 30% in some markets, and teams have lost up to half of their game-day promotion sponsors (Greising & Palmer, BUSINESS WEEK, 6/5 issue). TEAM MARKETING REPORT estimates a 25-30% drop in radio and TV ad revenues, with the losses as high as 30-40% in some cases. As former MLB broadcast head Bryan Burns notes, while rightsholders are being hurt now, "it will all come around" -- in the form of lower rights fees (John Helyar, WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/30). In Toronto, Larry Millson estimates MLB's revenues could drop to $1.4B this year, down from $1.88B in '93 (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 5/30). HELP WANTED? AD AGE leads the call for a marketing director for MLB. Jeff Jensen writes, "The perception is that MLB's marketing is rudderless and in need of a visionary and visible leader." On the list to head MLBP is Arlen Kantarian, Exec VP Marketing & Special Events for Radio City Music Hall Productions. However, with the MLBP job vacant since last year, Kathleen Davis, MLB Dir of Market Development, has assumed a "leadership role" and defends their efforts. Davis: "We are getting things done. With ['Welcome to the Show'], we're moving in a direction we wanted to head even before the strike" (AD AGE, 5/29 issue). Claire Smith faults baseball for not promoting the positive images of its players. Phillies President Bill Giles: "The most amazing thing is that in my lifetime we've never had a vice president of marketing or a marketing director" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/30). George Steinbrenner named five owners who should handle marketing: Wayne Huizenga (Marlins), Drayton McLane (Astros), David Glass (Royals), Jerry McMorris (Rockies) and Disney (Angels). Steinbrenner: "Let them dictate what we should do, and let those of us who evidently don't know what we're doing stay aside" (NEWSDAY, 5/29). NOMINEES FOR COMMISSIONER: Peter Gammons reports that after reading Paul Kirk's "brilliant" Declaration of Interdependence in the May 22 issue of THE SPORTING NEWS, MLBPA Exec Dir Don Fehr met with Kirk -- the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee -- and later "made it clear he is one person the players would embrace as commissioner." Fehr, on Kirk: "He is one of those rare people who sees the big picture. I am more than just impressed" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/28). In Toronto, Jim Hunt floats Blue Jays VP Pat Gillick, calling him "one of the most respected executives in baseball among both players and owners." Hunt writes that Gillick might be interested -- "if the owners would give him the same sort of power that the owners of the Blue Jays did" (TORONTO SUN, 5/29).
NBA officials admitted yesterday that a work stoppage is possible next season as discussions with the NBPA over a new CBA have broken down, according to Frank Hughes of the WASHINGTON TIMES. NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik: "Obviously, if we don't have a deal at some point, a work stoppage becomes a possibility. Both sides recognize that's not something we want to happen." Granik and NBA VP of Operations Rod Thorn both cited a stalemate and said no further talks are scheduled (WASHINGTON TIMES, 5/30). GET UP, STAND UP: In New York, NEWSDAY's Rob Parker writes that a strike may be necessary since NBA owners "have been robbing players blind for years" and they aren't in "a rush to change things." Parker contends the "players have to be serious about carrying out a work stoppage if the owners don't want to negotiate in good faith." Parker takes the league to task for its sharing to total revenue. He points out that the "big money- making NBA licensing and lucrative corporate suites aren't included" in total gross revenues, of which the players get 53% (N.Y. NEWSDAY, 5/28). In Dallas, David Moore writes that Stern likes "to point out the NBA has never lost a single game to a strike. Of course, the league and its Players Association have never gone this long without an agreement." Moore labels as "significant" Stern's admission that a work stoppage is possible (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/28).